Violent crime nationwide is hovering near its lowest levels in 30 years, but in some cities street gangs still account for an alarming share of death and destruction, says U.S. News & World Report. Homicide–much of it gang-related–has been the leading cause of death for young black men ages 15 to 34 for more than a quarter century. Gangs are perpetuated by a cycle of despair that is nearly impossible to break, as they capitalize on the seemingly endless demand for drugs while protecting their business with brutal, often indiscriminate, violence.
Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, are trying to make a lasting dent in the bloodshed by interrupting this cycle through dramatic intervention. It falls to local police and social workers to seize on the resulting disruption in organized violence and attack the root causes of the problem. In cities from Baltimore to Los Angeles, ATF and other agencies are focusing on street gangs, in particular the groups’ most violent enforcers, hit men, and toughs who rob drug stash houses, assassinate rival gangsters, and carry out home invasions. They’re some of the deadliest gang activities, yet if they’re committed against other criminals, they usually go unreported. “Violent crime is at historic lows, and much of that has to do with focused law enforcement attention to violence and gang violence in particular,” says Michael Sullivan, acting director of the ATF. Progress is slow and hard-won.